PhotoThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted an application from Impossible Foods, confirming that a key ingredient in its meatless burgers is "generally accepted as safe."

The company said the federal regulator sent a letter to Impossible Foods this week, “validating the unanimous conclusion of food-safety experts that its key ingredient is safe to eat.”

However, the letter is not the final step in the process; it only informed the company that the FDA had no questions – which is usually a good sign for an applicant.

The ingredient in question is soy leghemoglobin -- a plant the company says makes its flagship product, the Impossible Burger, look and taste like ground beef.

Iron-containing molecule

Impossible Foods says soy leghemoglobin is a protein that carries “heme,” an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every animal and plant. It lists Heme as the “magic ingredient” that it says makes the Impossible Burger most like actual meat.

Previously, the FDA decided that the substance had not been adequately tested for safety. Soy leghemoglobin is a protein that comes from the roots of soybeans. Impossible Foods uses it to simulate the taste and beef-like texture of hamburgers.

“Based on the information that Impossible Foods provided, as well as other information available to FDA, we have no questions at this time regarding Impossible Foods’ conclusion that soy leghemoglobin preparation is GRAS [generally recognized as safe] under its intended conditions of use to optimize flavor in ground beef analogue products intended to be cooked,” the letter stated.

The letter also made clear that it not an affirmation that soy leghemoglobin preparation is GRAS under 21 CFR 170.35. Still, it's a milestone for the company that has promised to change how the world eats, and has drawn investments from the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Currently, the company says its Impossible Burgers are served in nearly 3,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Hong Kong.


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